Seeing and being seen: The Lavender Tube on 'Law & Order' and lesbian optics

  • by Victoria A. Brownworth
  • Tuesday May 2, 2023
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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre welcomed 'The L Word' creators and actors to a press briefing.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre welcomed 'The L Word' creators and actors to a press briefing.

The "Law & Order" franchise has been on TV my entire adult life and in that time has done many groundbreaking stories as well as those stories "ripped from the headlines." Watching old "Law & Order" shows from the '90s, it's astonishing how many storylines — particularly those about racism and white supremacy and anti-gay themes — could have been written right now.

The official synopsis of the April 27 episode of "Law & Order," "Private Lives," reads: "Cosgrove and Shaw investigate the murder of a family physician whose outspoken politician wife suspects she was the intended target. Price and Maroun's case hangs in the balance when the defense calls one of the doctor's young patients to testify as a witness."

Some spoilers ahead.

At first we are led to believe the conservative politician was indeed the target (and are prepared to despise her, even though she's played by "Rizzoli & Isles" star Sasha Alexander). But then it looks like her husband, the doctor, might have been doing something creepy with a young 13-year-old patient and is keeping it off the books. Is this going to be a crossover with "Law & Order: SVU"?

Jeffrey Donovan, Mehcad Brooks as Det. Jalen Shaw, and Rebekah Brockman in 'Law & Order's 'Private Lives' episode (photo: Ralph Bavaro/NBC)  

And then — wow. The doctor was indeed doing something with the patient. He was giving her gender-affirming care—puberty blockers because the kid, Taylor (Oliver Spenceman), was assigned male at birth, but had been identifying as female for, well, ever.

This is New York City, so no problem with such care, right? Wrong. Taylor's father, Robert (Christian Conn) was adamantly opposed to his "son" getting the treatment and had forbidden it. Taylor's mother, Debra, (Kara Jackson) was more conflicted, but didn't want to contradict her husband. Another angle; the doctor's sister is Taylor's guidance counselor at school. Whoa.

A series of twists occur that highlighted the panoply of issues, political and personal, related to gender-affirming care of trans youth. It was a deeply moving episode in which everyone is forced to examine their biases and consider the humanity (remember that?) of the kids involved in this "debate" about their personhood.

I vividly recall an episode of "Law & Order: SVU" starring "The L Word" heartthrob Katherine Moennig.

In the 2003 "SVU" episode, "Fallacy," Moennig played Cheryl Avery, a young woman who kills a man in what at first seems self defense against a sexual assault, but then becomes more complicated when it's revealed that Cheryl is a trans woman who is on hormone treatments, but saving up for gender reassignment surgery. The episode pivots to where she will be housed in prison. It's heartbreaking and Moennig is spectacular in the episode. (Watch on DailyMotion.)

That the franchise was addressing these issues 20 years ago speaks to how the various series have tapped into the zeitgeist or led the way. It also says we are nowhere near where we need to be as a society in embracing the humanity of everyone in that society.

"Private Lives" is the 485th episode of "Law & Order," and is well worth a look. "Law & Order" episodes are available on Hulu and Peacock.

Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D-MT)  

Zooey in Montana
Humanity is definitely what Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D-MT) was addressing in the Montana state legislature last week when an anti-trans bill was being debated. Zephyr is the first trans woman elected to the state legislature. But like the Tennessee 3 in March, Zephyr was censured by two-thirds of the assembly for speaking out of turn. She's been barred from the assembly for the remainder of 2023. (CBS News) (New York Times)

Unlike the Tennessee 3, Zephyr has not gotten the 24/7 media hype and national support that Justin Jones, Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson received. (AP News)

Vice President Kamala Harris has not gone to Montana to meet with her. (NBC News)

But Zephyr announced on her Twitter Saturday night that there had been a protest for her and posted a series of photos from that event.

It's to be hoped that Zephyr, who is staking a spot on a bench with her laptop right outside the Montana chamber, gets more mainstream media attention. Think about how hard she worked to be in that legislature. Zephyr deserves better than the treatment she's received for standing for her humanity and that of the trans people, especially the youth, of Montana.

Lesbian visibility
Staking her claim for visibility and lesbian humanity is White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, an out lesbian. She welcomed cast and creators from the Showtime TV series "The L Word" and "Generation Q," including Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey, Katherine Moennig and Ilene Chaiken, to talk about Lesbian Visibility Week at the daily White House press briefing on April 25. What a moment.

Highlighting lesbian visibility during this fraught time in American politics exemplified how representation matters. Jean-Pierre said, "So, this week is Lesbian Visibility Week. And as the first openly queer person to hold the position of Press Secretary for the President of the United States, I see every day how important visibility and representation are."

She continued, "As a young queer woman of color, I felt alone and sometimes invisible... It's important that LGBTQI+ people are represented in government, in shows, in institutions across the country. And this work is more important than ever as the LGBTQI+ community continues to face relentless attacks from some Republicans across the country. From book bans to 'Don't Say Gay' laws, MAGA extremists want to roll back the visibility and progress we fought so hard to achieve."

Chaiken has made lesbian visibility a focal point of her work, most recently making a Black lesbian character, Sgt. Ayanna Bell (Danielle Moné Truitt), the star of her series "Law & Order: Organized Crime."

Chaiken said, "We face new threats against our community, from online harassment to legislative acts of violence to actual physical violence — astonishing, backward, mean-spirited attacks by groups and individuals who in trying to deny our humanity only diminish their own."

She acknowledged the long history of invisibilizing lesbians, asserting, "We've been fighting this fight for generations, and we'll never stand down. They may try to erase our stories from classrooms and libraries, but we're here. We're here today at the White House. And we won't be erased. We will continue to be visible, powerful, engaged, contributive, creative, loving American citizens."

Hailey said, "I'm standing here today because, as a young gay girl in Nebraska who raced Soap Box Derby cars and wore rainbow suspenders, I was seen by my family. Their love and support gave me the courage and confidence to live my life openly."

She added, "Visibility starts in our homes and our communities. And even if it feels like you're under attack, know that we see you."

Fans will always love "The L Word," OG and new.

Alycia Debnam-Carey in 'Saint X'  

Saint X
I had to watch Hulu's "Saint X" to see star Alycia Debnam-Carey living again. Many will recall that the Australian actress was a victim of lesbians being killed off in nine out of every ten lesbian roles. The CW's "The 100" caused a furor among fans when they took out Debnam-Carey's character Lexa. Plus, fans love her. (W Magazine)

In "Saint X," Debnam-Carey plays Emily Thomas, who is on a dangerous mission to find out the truth what happened to her older sister, Alison (West Duchovny), who was brutally murdered and raped on an idyllic trip to the Caribbean 20 years earlier.

Based on the bestselling novel and created by "The Handmaid's Tale's" Leila Gerstein this thriller/psychological drama series has a ton of queer content and is mesmerizingly compelling. The landscape is both breathtaking and claustrophobic.

"Saint X" is directed by two Black directors: out lesbian Dee Rees ("Pariah," "Bessie") and hip hop videographer and TV and film director Darren Grant, who's done over 100 videos of major talents from Destiny's Child to Common.

Black directors on a story that highlights a missing white woman skews that narrative and gives "Saint X" a different focus. Watch this. It's really good.

I was going to do a whole thing about Tucker Carlson being fired from Fox News, but instead decided to devote that space to a Black lesbian and a trans woman instead of anti-democracy white nationalist. But I did write about Carlson and his anti-LGBTQ history for the Bay Area Reporter's sister publication Philadelphia Gay News that you should read.

We can't afford to forget what this guy did to us, and he's not gone, he's just on a brief pause. While watching the White House Correspondents Dinner on April 29, I was reminded yet again about why I do this work. Because the First Amendment matters, our stories matter, and our lives matter.

So for the good, the fab and the oh-so-ugly, you know you really must stay tuned.

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